Onwards and upwards for ambitious Morocco
Morocco currently lie 53rd in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking after climbing a single place in August but it was July that the Atlas Lions made a real leap forward, jumping eight spots to 54th, their highest standing since 2009.
This rise has come about following a string of good results in recent months, both in qualifying for the 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations and on the road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. The Moroccans have recorded seven wins, two draws and just one loss, coming at the hands of Equatorial Guinea in November 2015.
Besides the prestige factor, the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking plays a major role due to its repercussions in terms of seedings, such as for World Cup qualifying. As Morocco defender Yunis Abdelhamid, who plies his club football for Dijon, told FIFA.com: "Morocco's progress in the World Ranking is very important for us. Being among the leading African sides allows us to be in the top pot when it comes to draws for continental and world competitions. We have to carry on getting good results to achieve the highest possible ranking at both global and African level."
Despite having scaled heights they had not reached since 2009, the Atlas Lions are determined to push on and continue their upward mobility. In the words of FUS Rabat's Mourad Batna: "Our recent results speak for themselves and it's only logical that we're rising in the World Ranking. We mustn't stop there, though: we've got to maintain our momentum, starting with the World Cup qualifier against Gabon."
Manuel Marouane da Costa, of Olympiacos, believes that the team's fine form is a natural consequence of improvements both in defence and in attack: "Our trajectory has been exemplary in the last few months. We were the first team to qualify for the 2017 AFCON and we've booked our ticket to the last round of 2018 World Cup qualifying. We score a lot of goals and don't concede many. Most importantly of all, we're unbeaten since Herve Renard arrived. The coach is doing a great job and the team are on the right track."
Renard building on Zaki's foundations The development under Renard has been plain for all to see and Morocco have been reaping the rewards for their hard work. However, the Frenchman inherited a group of players brimming with potential, who had already been moulded into a well-organised unit. It is small wonder, then, that the team are full of praise for both the current coaching staff and their predecessors.
As Mounir Obbadi put it: "The Moroccan national team's progress doesn't date from Renard's arrival but from the time of Zaki, under whom everything was going well. Everyone knows that Renard is experienced and ambitious. He has won two AFCONs, which is no small feat. He knows African sides like the back of his hand and we have a bright future under him."
Abdelhamid was quick to talk up Renard's role: "He has made a big impact on the national team so far. We've all felt his influence since he took the helm. He has a lot of experience and has already won the AFCON twice before. He is highly ambitious and demands the same of his players, which is a good thing."
Achraf Lazaar, who has just joined Newcastle from Palermo, feels that Renard's approach differs substantially from Zaki's, but stopped short of backing one over the other, crediting both for Morocco's upsurge. "Personally, I believe the team have improved a lot recently. Renard has made many changes, including tactically. That's normal, because every coach has their own way of doing things. In my view, the team made progress under Zaki and have done so again under Renard. The results say it all."
Although they have always had their fair share of stars, Morocco have failed to live up to expectations in recent years. Now their fans have every reason to believe that their heroes are capable of continuing their climb up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and maybe even dethroning Algeria as the highest-ranked African country.
On this note, Lille's Obbadi wrapped things up by paying tribute to the supporters and reiterating that he and his team-mates have no intention of resting on their laurels: "There are numerous good players in the Moroccan national team. We have a lot of belief in this side. The fans have always supported us when we're on home soil and they've helped us to get these good results. They like to see good football and goals. That's their right. We're going to keep progressing, bit by bit."